The Saga of Radio Antwerpen

During the 1920s and 1930s, a multitude of small radio broadcasting stations (some formal though most were informal), took to the air throughout Belgium, rather like what was happening in many other countries throughout the world.  The stations in Belgium were installed in private homes, business locations, church buildings, and even out in the fields; wherever was convenient. 

Back during that era, most of those radio broadcasting stations were unlicensed and therefore considered to be illegal according to Belgian law.  In fact, in an endeavor to reduce nationwide chaos on the radio spectrum, the Belgian government shut down 37 of the illegal stations in 1932, though some of them did seem to pop up again in a different way at a different location.  However at that stage,  legal stations that had some form of government papers, were permitted to continue in service. 

During the year 1922, which was very early in the radio broadcasting scene, Georges de Caluwe launched a radio broadcasting station at a regional location in the city of Antwerp, which he named appropriately as Radio Antwerpen, Radio Antwerp.  In due course he obtained the normal license from the government licensing agency and he was granted the callsign EB4ED. 

That callsign EB4ED seemed to indicate that his radio station was an amateur operation only, though in reality the license he received was indeed a radio program broadcasting license.  When the international prefix for radio stations in Belgium was changed from EB to ON, the official callsign for Radio Antwerpen was changed from EB4ED to ON4ED.

However Radio Antwerpen became known popularly as Radio Kerske, Radio Little Church, because the antenna was installed in the steeple of a church.  Initially Radio Antwerpen operated with 100 watts on 265.5 m (1130 kHz), though around the turn of the decade (1930) the approved operating frequency was changed to 1460 (1465) kHz.

Early photographs of Georges Paul De Caluwé (Radio Kerkske)
From Historisch Archief van Erfgoed Edegem

The programming from Radio Antwerpen consisted of recorded and live music, news and information, all of which was popular in Belgium and beyond.  Reception reports were received from grateful listeners within Belgium, as well as from nearby countries in continental Europe and from England.

Some time during the 1930s, Mr. A. R. Lacey on Monrad Street in Palmerston North in New Zealand heard the low powered mediumwave Radio Antwerpen in Belgium, and he received a QSL response from the station.  He had been DXing for a period of eight years, and he considered the Radio Antwerpen QSL as one of his very best ever.

Soon after the European War began in 1939, the Belgian government required Radio Antwerpen (and other stations also) to take a program relay from the government radio broadcasting service in Brussels.  However soon afterwards Georges de Caluwe deliberately destroyed his radio equipment in May 1940, ahead of the advancing German army.

However as opportunity provided, Caluwe began quietly to construct new radio equipment which he activated soon after Belgium began to return to some form of normalcy after the end of the war.  The Belgian government reluctantly permitted Radio Antwerpen to return to the air, based upon its prewar license. 

At the same time, three other prewar stations were permitted to return to the air, based on their prewar licenses, and these were located at Ghent, Courtral and Hasselt-Limbourg.  However these stations were permitted a maximum power of 200 watts, they operated on either 1465 or 1483 kHz, and in addition they were required to relay some of the government programming during their broadcast day. 

On August 31, 1948, Radio Antwerpen was closed by government order, and the radio equipment was confiscated.  In the meantime, Belgium planned on nationwide radio coverage from its own radio broadcasting stations on 620 kHz and 926 kHz with 20 kW each, and subsequently with 150 kW.

Uilenspiegel is towed out of Antwerp Harbour, September 1962. Photo: Offshore Radio Museum

During the next seven years, Caluwe attempted to obtain a new broadcasting license, but without success.  He then launched his own land based pirate radio station (1955), though that was shut down by the government a few days later.

Soon after that, other pirate stations began to pop up on artificial coastal forts and on ships in international waters off the coast of several countries of Europe; Denmark, Holland and Sweden.  Georges de Caluwe followed a similar pattern and he bought a concrete French ship from the World War 1 era and loaded it with radio equipment.  The ship was originally named Crocodile, though Caluwe renamed it Uilenspiegel (Owl Mirror), in honor of an old Belgian folk hero.  He also established a landbased recording studio at Nerviërsstraat in Antwerp.

On Friday October 12, 1962, test broadcasts began from the Uilenspiegel at sea off the coast of Belgium, with a 10 kW mediumwave transmitter on 201 m (1492 kHz).  Their mediumwave channel was squeezed in between the French language Brussels 4 with 5 kW on 202 m (1484 kHz) and the Flemish language Brussels 3 with 20 kW on 198 m (1511 kHz).

Radio Antwerpen identification announcement (audio excerpt from AWR Wavescan)

Three days later, a regular programming schedule was introduced, from 7:00 am to 12 midnight, made up of light music, a format that also included news and information. 

In November 1962 , a shortwave transmitter, perhaps a piece of amateur equipment, began a relay of the mediumwave programming just above the 40 metre band on 7600 kHz.  Reception reports indicated wide area coverage, even as far as Canada.

Radio Antwerpen identification announcement (audio excerpt from AWR Wavescan)

However, the end was near.  Winter storms in November (1962) damaged the ship and its equipment, and the Belgian government passed legislation against support for unlicensed offshore radio stations.  The crew were rescued off the stricken ship by a lifeboat and a tugboat, and the ship ran ashore just north of the coast with nearby Holland.  Many years later, the Dutch authorities blew up the ship, and covered the debris with sand.

At the end of his 40 year mainly unsuccessful radio saga, Georges de Caluwe died in hospital after major surgery.  His death occurred at the same time as his radio ship, the Crocodile-Uilenspiegel, was damaged and destroyed in the winter storms of the year 1962.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of September 25, 2022

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